This lovely lady was my mum. I am as proud of her and her achievements in life as she was of me.
[BMD] [Early Childhood] [In Wales] [The Nurse] [W.W.II] [Marriage] [Family Life]
[Later Years] [Final Illness] [Photo Gallery]
Maud was born on the 15th December 1909 at her Boneham grandparents house at Lower Lady’s Hills, Kenilworth in Warwickshire. Maud showed her independence, her patience and her stubborn streak from a very early age. One time she refused to eat her meal and was told she’d have to sit at table until she did. She sat there all day, but not another morsel passed her lips and eventually her family gave in. On another occasion, she recalled hiding under the giant rhubarb leaves in the garden to avoid punishment for some other misdemeanour. When she did eventually emerge many hours later, her family was so relieved to see her alive and well she wasn’t scolded!
Maud was an intelligent girl and thrived at school and developed a lifelong passion for reading, music and the arts. She went on to win several prizes, as well as a much-coveted scholarship to the Kenilworth Grammar School. Everyone had high hopes of her eventually achieving a place at university. It was the only kind of height Maud could aspire to. Although she claimed to be five foot and half an inch, and she never let you forget the half inch, four foot eleven was probably nearer the mark. At just over five foot six I towered above her, though she always insisted on referring to me as her ‘little gift from heaven’!.
The family moved from Kenilworth to Leamington Spa and by the time her father went off to fight in World War I she had a sister and her much loved brother, George. No doubt Maud, as the eldest child, was expected to do her share of childminding, especially when another sister and two more brothers were born after the war.
The family moved to 21 Winifred Street, Dowlais near Merthyr Tydfil in Wales. Maud had many happy memories of going up into the mountains for long walks, either alone or with her siblings. Her father was very strict with the by now teenage Maud, not just because of the courting habits of the Welsh lads but also no doubt in part due to memories of his own teenage behaviour. She was forbidden from fraternising with the local boys, but found her own way around the ban. She would tell her family that she was off to church, but hide her party frock underneath her Sunday best. When she was a safe distance from home, her church clothes would be taken off and bundled underneath a convenient bush and she’d be off to attend the local dance!
Sadly Maud’s mother died in 1925 and her father, by now also succumbing to illness, was living on Outdoor Parish Relief. When he too died in 1927 Maud tried to keep the family together, her dream of university destroyed but not forgotten. The records show that Maud was in receipt of 33 shilling outdoor relief to support herself and the four other remaining children. It must have been a desperate time for the family. The struggle to maintain the family home ended in 1930. The three youngest children were sent to the orphanage. Records show that at some point Maud was enrolled at Twynyrodyn Girls School in Merthyr though the exact date is unknown (Glamorgan FHS CD of Merthyr Schools). Her next of kin is given on the Admissions Register as Thomas presumed Leeson and her home address as Woodlands.
Maud went into nursing, gaining the nursing certificate and medal of the Royal Medical Association at the City of London Mental Hospital. Even here Maud’s sense of fun got her into scrapes. She often broke the curfew going to the theatre, the cinema or to dances until late at night and then having to shin up a drainpipe to gain re-admittance to the nurses’ home. She was frequently caught and sometimes amassed more in fines for ‘bad’ behaviour than she earned in a week! But for Maud it was all worth it, and she often recalled her enjoyment of seeing ‘The Jazz Singer’ or ‘The Student Prince’. However, Maud enjoyed being a nurse and was good at it. Once a female patient escaped from the ward and ran naked through the hospital grounds with Maud in hot pursuit, holding out a blanket in the style of a matador and with the cheers and verbal encouragement of fellow staff ringing in her ears!
Maud worked hard, but she also played hard and enjoyed life to the full. Although she wasn’t classically pretty she had glossy raven hair and large brown eyes. Young men were attracted to her liveliness and sense of humour and she never lacked for company. One time she was driving with a beau when all four wheels fell off his home-built car. They rolled down the hill, Faversham I think it was or maybe Dover, where the locals caught them and then walked up to see what had happened. As the car doors had buckled, Maud and her young man were trapped inside but were soon freed by the amused throng.
Maud may have flirted with motor cars, but what she liked best was a cycling holiday with her friends. One time she and a friend found themselves deep in the countryside as night fell. Being too far from any village, or so they thought, they resolved to make their bed in a nearby haystack. Now Maud had high standards. In later life she never left the house without lipstick or putting on her stockings, even if she was only putting out the milk bottles. So even though she was going to be spending the night in a haystack, she put on her pyjamas and put in her hair curlers. She was awoken the next morning by the catcalls of the local labourers on their way to work. The haystack might have appeared to be isolated, but what the girls had failed to notice was that the main road was on the other side of it!
Like many other nurses, Maud’s role changed during W.W.II and she found herself nursing wounded soldiers and civilians at what was now the Southern Hospital in Dartford, formerly Stone House. Although often frightened by air raids and tired from long nights in the air raid shelters, Maud maintained her sense of humour. The regular nursing staff had been joined by several volunteers, often of genteel background. Maud could barely contain herself when recounting the story of one such hapless gel. The nurses were being instructed in firefighting and this included instruction on how to assemble the fire hoses. To the delight of more experienced souls, one young lady asked about the assembly of the couplings when joining hoses. ‘Excuse me, but does the male go into the female or the female go into the male?’!
Like so many others, Maud lost many friends during the war, including one who she later described to me as ‘the love of my life’. Her fiancé, a doctor before the war, joined the RAF as a pilot and went down with his plane over the English Channel. However, she met George Stephen Andrews who was working at the hospital and they married at Dartford Register Office on 8th November 1947. Maud wore an outfit of wine coloured velvet and kept a scrap of it in her wardrobe for many years. The witnesses were L. Leaford, Una D.P. Kember and J.W. Kember.
The marriage was one of chalk and cheese. George was not intellectual , while Maud loved books and was often found humming tunelessly to popular music on the radio. While she preferred to watch plays and documentaries on the TV, George was only really keen on sports. In spite of their differences and perhaps because of Maud’s ‘you make your bed, you lie in it’ attitude, the marriage survived for over 30 years.
Maud and George moved into 39 Fleet Road, Dartford and later to ‘Collingwood’, 20 Denver Road, Dartford.. Their first child John was born in 1949, but was over three months premature and lived for less than one day. Maud never forgot him and would often become quiet and subdued around the anniversary of his birth. However, they later went on to have another son and a daughter.
The City of London decided to honour those who had served it well during W.W.II. Several nurses were nominated for the award of the Freedom Of The City Of London. The newly married Maud and George duly went up to London and Maud was made a freeman, or more acureately free sister, by redemption. Dinner at the Mansion House followed, with Maud and George bedazzled by the gold plate. They also went up to London for the Festival of Britain and to witness the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.
Maud gave up nursing while her children were young, but returned to it c. 1962. For many years she worked at Joyce Green Hospital in Dartford on the Geriatric Ward 20B. Although a member of COHSE, Maud was not active in the union. In order to maximise the amount of money coming in, she worked the day shift on Saturday and Sunday, leaving the house very early in the morning to catch the bus and not returning home until nearly six in the evening. Maud also regularly worked Monday and Thursday evenings. Sometimes the patients’ relatives gave the staff a box of chocolates and it was always appreciated by my brother and I when it was her turn to bring them home. On rarer occasions Maud received a letter thanking her for her kindness and her nursing skills.
In spite of her long working hours, Maud did not neglect her family. I remember her taking me to ballet classes every Tuesday and Wednesday for many years, as well as the swimming baths on Fridays. We both liked the summer holidays best, when we would go up to London and spend the day shopping, followed by tea at Lyons Corner House. Mum encouraged a love of theatre, music and ballet , so we would spend the evening watching the Bolshoi Ballet or at the theatre. I remember us seeing Bruce Forsyth in ‘Little Me’ and Sir Harry Secombe in ‘The Canterbury Tales’. The latter treat was attended twice on the excuse that my brother was studying Chaucer for ‘O’ level English, but in reality I think mum just loved its risqué humour.
Maud was never idle, she kept the house neat and tidy, cooked meals from scratch - usually rather badly, made cakes and home-made preserves - she never could get her strawberry jam to set, and when all else failed, knitted jumpers for everyone. Even the milkman benefitted from mum’s knitting, receiving a new pair of fingerless mittens every year.
When George retired in January of 1972 they bought a house in Plymouth. Number 8 Wesley Place may only have been a tiny Victorian terraced house, but Maud loved it because it was the only house they had ever owned. She would have liked a garden, but made do by filling the back yard with flower pots and an old tin bath in which she grew sweet peas.
Maud liked to keep busy, for a short time working in a Plymouth nursing home. However, she found the difference between its nursing standards and those of the NHS too marked to continue. For a while she worked nights at the YWCA but gave it up in favour of a daytime job polishing the silver, etc. at the Imperial Hotel. The hotel was close to the studios of Westward TV and often played host to celebrities. One, a wrestler, insisted on buying everyone on the staff a drink to celebrate his birthday. One drink turned into several and Maud returned home very much the worse for wear, much to George’s disgust.
After George had a stroke in 1976, she made the arduous bus journey to Moorhaven Hospital twice a week, taking him a pasty and a cream cake for a treat. She wasn’t lonely, she had her work and we lived nearby so she saw her grandsons every week. In addition, Maud’s sisters Lucy and Joan often visited. When Joan came to stay, the two sisters would go out on the town, drinking Snowballs until the wee small hours.
In 1982 Maud was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. She’d been a lifelong smoker despite the regular pleas of her family for her to give it up. Although she had made the concession of changing to filter tips in the 70’s. She refused chemotherapy, since it would mean being admitted into hospital. Something that she dreaded, believing she’d only ever come out ‘in my box’. She did agree to radiotherapy, which she bore bravely and with dignity. She never complained and only expressed pity and great admiration for the courage of the children she met in the hospital’s Oncology Department.
The tumour shrank and for two years she led a near normal life. It was clear that it couldn’t last and that it was unlikely she would survive until I had achieved enough Open University credits for an honours degree. I opted to attend the degree ceremony on obtaining an ordinary degree. Attending the ceremony at Exeter University was one of Maud’s proudest days . When George died in 1984 the fight went out of her and she became increasingly frail. Still refusing to go into hospital, she died peacefully alone at home while watching TV on the evening of 29th August 1985. She was cremated at Efford Crematorium, and like George before her, her ashes were scattered in its gardens.